These are the best books I've read about sorrow and loss so far in my year of reading one book a day. They're the best because they create very genuine situations of loss and the resulting unhappiness, and then go further and offer up unique and profound modes of dealing with the pain, of absorbing the loss and taking in the anguish, and then emerging on the other side intact (or not). A few are inspirational, a few entertaining, but all of them are penetrating in their vision of that most vulnerable of human of conditions, sorrow.
by Don DeLillo
Lauren, an artist who works with her body, is left alone in the old, rambling house she shared with her husband. Always too big for the two of them, it is now immense and empty. But is it? When the ghost of Rey appears, Lauren is no longer alone. Will replacing Rey with a double remove her loss, will she be able to obliterate the past, present, and future, and take way her pain? The risk is that she will disappear herself, erasure as an escape from sorrow.
by Banana Yoshimoto
Two orphans circle around life and each other, as roommates, then friends, then true mates of the soul. Mikage and Yuichi are both mourners but unsure if they prefer to be alone in their sorrows or with each other. Together, apart, together: they each have their moments of relying, in turn, on each other, and this story of their shifting rhythms of seeking solace and providing comfort is very lovely and inspiring.
by Judith Kitchen
Based on Ulysses by James Joyce, but telling the story from Molly's point of view, this carefully wrought and thoughtful novel explores the very different ways a wife and a husband react to the death of their young son.
by Almudena Solana
Aurora is an anomaly, a woman with a great capacity for living but who chooses to do it quietly and on her own terms. Aurora is never joyously happy nor tragically sad, although she has reason to be, being the young widow of a man she'd hoped to love for a lifetime. She accepts the fact of her sorrow but refuses to live steeped in it. Her search to create a new life is beautifully portrayed in this short but stirring novel.
by Martin Corrick
The narrator of this wonderful novel, James Bolsover, is a man enthralled by words and the power of words to create order out of chaos. He believes that words and the names we give to things, the list we put things on and the definitions we give them, help us through the muddle of existing. Bolsover uses words most charmingly when he creates a beautiful, fictional place to allow his wife to bloom, much as she creates a garden to allow her flowers space and light and air to bloom. What happens when words fail, when they cannot save a live or alter the outcome of a mistake? Tragedy, loss, sorrow. But it is only words, words shared with another, that can help Bolsover out again, by creating a shelter of understanding and compassion against the pain.
by Toni Morrison
Sorrow and loss are a constant presence in this novel, kept at bay, even hidden, but always there. Told by a series of narrators, each narrator is an orphan of some sort, flung out in the world to make it on their own. Each is also a slave, either in fact or in deed, shackled by their identity, confined inescapably by race or gender or class or religion to be treated a certain way. One woman's wrenching act of mercy is both a catalyst of sorrow and the only possible release from it, the first step towards throwing off dominion brought on by identity, but it is also a misunderstood act that will have repercussions across all the narrators' lives.
by Mia Couto, translated by David Brookshaw
Set in Mozambique and narrated by a man buried outside of his ancestral traditions (and thus undead), this novel is both a murder mystery and a portrait of what happens when memory is wiped out, both collective memories of traditions and events, and personal memories of sorrow and loss.
by Paul Auster
The story of a man, his daughter, and his granddaughter, all facing their own heartbreak, is told through a story within a story where a chance at redemption lies within the lives of those left behind. It is a beautiful and provoking novel, very sad and moving, and also reassuring in its conclusion that "the weird world rolls on."
by Lloyd Jones
Sorrow and loss are rendered here in vivid detail, and just as vividly, the power of literature is shown in its ability to help with the pain of living. Not only can a great book change a person, as Great Expectations changes our narrator, but it can help her, providing comfort and release. The book — and the man who brings the book and all its possibilities to her — acts as the mirror to her own experiences of despair, abandonment, and fear, and thus both the book and the man are her inspiration to live beyond these experiences, to reach, as Pip does, for something more in her life than just the memories of her past.
by W.G. Sebald
Sebald traces the histories of four emigrants, all very different but all sharing the same alienation and loss of identity either through force or through choice, during World War II. All struggle to forge a new existence and identity in their new land. With its landscapes of abandonment and the personal histories of loss and alienation and dismemberment (torn from their country of identification), this is not a happy book. And yet the book is not miserable or pessimistic. Ultimately, it is a portrayal of what humans do: we survive. Through sorrow and loss, pain and horror, we create a life, and we pass that creation on through art or adventure or simple connection, one person with another.
Recommending books so good, they'll keep you up past your bedtime. more...
About Nina Sankovitch
I'm reading 1 book every day for 1 year and writing about it. Every day I review the book I read the day before and then start to read my new book for the day. I'm doing this intensive exercise to promote reading by adults for pleasure and edification — and for my own pleasure and edification. Great good comes from reading great books.
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